NTSB Press Release

National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs


NTSB ATTRIBUTES LOSS OF LIVES IN FIRE ABOARD CRUISE SHIP IN ALASKA TO LACK OF SAFETY MANAGEMENT

April 14, 1998

Washington, D.C. -The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that the lack of effective safety management threatened the fire safety of the UNIVERSE EXPLORER, resulting in crewmember deaths and injuries from a fire of undetermined origin. The UNIVERSE EXPLORER, currently managed by V. Ships Marine, Ltd., was managed by International Marine Carriers, Inc. and New Commodore Cruise Lines, Ltd. at the time of the fire.

On July 27, 1996, the Panamanian passenger ship UNIVERSE EXPLORER, en route from Juneau to Glacier Bay, Alaska, had a fire in the main laundry. Dense smoke and heat spread upward to a deck where crew accommodation quarters were located. As a result, five crew members died from smoke inhalation and 55 crewmembers and one passenger sustained serious or minor injuries.

Contributing to the loss of life and injuries was a lack of sprinkler systems, the lack of automatic local-sounding fire alarms and the rapid spread of smoke through the crew's berthing area.

The Safety Board found that if the UNIVERSE EXPLORER had been equipped with an automatic sprinkler system, the large amounts of smoke causing the loss of life may have been avoided. Also, had automatic closure of the fire doors been incorporated in the fire detection system, the spread of smoke to the crew berthing area could have been avoided, the Board stated. The Board noted that the lack of an automatic smoke alarm delayed prompt notification to the crew about the fire and the need to evacuate; the crewmembers may have escaped had they received an earlier warning.

The Board concluded that the UHF radio alone did not provide the communication capability the fire watch needed to ensure the safety of passengers and crewmembers. If the UNIVERSE EXPLORER had been equipped with an internal radio antenna system, radio communications would have been more effective during the fire emergency.

As a result of an insufficient number of portable radios, the shipboard medical staff was unable to communicate with each other by radio, which delayed the time to initiate care to the people injured in this accident.

To prevent similar accidents in the future, the Board issued a series of recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard, the New Commodore Cruise Lines, Ltd., the V. Ships Marine Ltd., the International Council of Cruise Lines and the American Bureau of Shipping. The recommendations included:

• Installing automatic sprinkler systems in accommodation areas, stairway enclosures, and corridors on the UNIVERSE EXPLORER;

• Recommending passenger and crew cabins be required to be equipped with an emergency call system so that people trapped during a fire emergency have a means of signaling their location;

• Improving the means of radio communications between shipboard command and emergency responders and among emergency response groups on board passenger ships;

• Recommending companies integrate heat and/or smoke detectors with automatic fire door release switches so that the doors in the immediate area of a fire will close automatically when the detectors are activated.

The Safety Board's complete printed report PB-98-916402, will be available from the National Technical Information Service, 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, Virginia 22161. The NTIS telephone number is (703) 487-4650.

 

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.